How “National Monument” Designations Change the Land: Q&A with Arizona Rancher Casey Murph


Feature photo: Casey Murph photographed by Scott Baxter for “100 Years, 100 Ranchers.” Tuscon Museum of Art.

President Joe Biden announced a new national monument in Arizona this week, covering nearly 1 million acres. The designation has raised concern from cattle ranchers, mining groups, agriculture supporters, and private landowners.

During his speech in Red Butte, AZ on Tuesday, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to taking 30% of the nation’s land out of economic development by 2030.

The 19th national monument in the state, Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, or Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, lies along the Arizona Strip–south of the Utah border and north of the Grand Canyon. It is extremely remote; far from the Grand Canyon, rarely traveled, and rich in minerals like uranium.

Local rancher Casey Murph worked the mule strings at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for 20 years. He and his family now live east of the Grand Canyon where Casey and wife Meggan raise “cattle and kids” on the H Bar Y Ranch in Navajo County. I asked Casey about the Biden Administration’s announcement and what it means for working Arizonans.

The Biden Administration frames this land designation as a positive; what does making nearly 1 million acres of Arizona land a “national monument” mean in practice, especially for Arizonans like yourself who make a living from and with the land?

What we have seen from the designation of National Monuments before, especially in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, is an almost complete shutdown of the land, ranchers evicted, roads mechanically destroyed, hunting and fishing camping restricted. Proponents of this new Monument claim that will not be the case this time, and that only mining will be restricted. But we have learned that this is often an assurance made when the Monument is first made, and within a short time the land is shut down to public use and access.

Some people are saying this move by President Biden is essentially land confiscation. Would you agree with that description? Why/why not?

If the designation restricts the public from access and use of the land that was formerly available, then I can’t think of a better term for it than confiscation, if not “land grab.”

Is there Native American history in this area that should be considered?

Most of this area was deserted when the first American explorers reached it. Scientists have concluded that the climate changed around 1500 to 1600 AD, and that many springs and creeks in the area dried up. The ancestral pueblo people, whose ruins are abundant in the area, left for the east at that time and never returned. At the time of the first American explorers, only the Havasupai were in the area, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon next to permanent water. The Hualapais main range was south and west nearer to the Kingman area, and the Shivwits Paiute were along the current Arizona and Utah boundary. The area was never home to the Navajo. I believe many people are attempting to connect native tribes to the area as an emotionalist move to gain support, and misleading the public on what native groups actually have a real connection.

How would you disagree with the Biden Administration’s definition of conservation?

The Biden administration seems to have a problem differentiating between conservation and preservation. They seem to think that any human activity on land is only harmful to it, including livestock grazing, hunting, fishing and camping. The fact is, the land at this monument is extremely well preserved just as it is. It is almost exactly now as it was 150 years ago when American explorers first found it. The fact that it is rugged, remote, and environmentally harsh by the standards of most modern people has accomplished this. I fail to see how it can be preserved any better.

Thank you Casey! Be sure you follow Casey Murph on X and look for his writing in RANGE Magazine.

Casey Murph, photo provided by Meggan Murph
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